Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Timetable Tuesday #72: The twisting and turning bus 432

Bus 432 doesn't stay on one street for very long. It's your classic 'coverage' neighbourhood bus route designed to connect back streets to shops and stations. Over 30 streets are served in the 45 minutes it takes to get from Yarraville to Newport. The map is below.

Route 432 is possibly best viewed as two routes: Yarraville to Altona Gate and Altona Gate to Newport. No one would ride it from end to end. You can see how it relates to the network generally on the map below. 

South Kingsville is the main area where the 432 is the only bus service. In other areas it is near other routes. Notably the 471 in parts of Altona North and Newport. 

What's the area like? The 432 serves catchments quite different from one another. The eastern portion (eg South Kingsville and Newport) is an established but gentrifying area with large numbers of CBD workers on good incomes. Altona North, to the west, has newer 1960s-1970s housing. These were better houses than to the east but they were further from transport and services. Many residents worked in manufacturing or at the nearby oil refinery. Average incomes relative to South Kingsville and Newport have fallen as the latter areas gentrified. I wrote much more about all this earlier this month when discussing Route 232 which intersects the 432 at various points. 


Route 432 is not what you'd call a productive bus route. Infrastructure Victoria reckons that 20 passenger boardings per in-service hour is a threshold for a reasonably productive bus route. Given that local buses travel at 20 km/h or slightly over that equates to one passenger boarding per kilometre. 

On normal weekdays Route 432 attracts three-quarters that or 15 boardings per hour. This drops to 12 boardings on school holidays. Saturday is similar at 13 boardings per hour. Sunday however is much lower at 8 boardings per hour. 

The tendency for Sunday to be much quieter than Saturday is a characteristic of working class suburbs (especially in Melbourne's middle-west, middle-north and outer south-east) where Sunday is still observed as a day of rest at home. Sundays are much more commercialised in wealthier inner/middle suburbs with many two income households. The same applies for outer coastal, hill and forested areas, especially over summer. Public transport in all these areas can be very well used on Sundays. 

Why is Route 432 a poor patronage performer? There's several reasons. The route overlaps with other routes, particular between Newport and Altona Gate. Secondly it's indirect. That makes it less attractive for those who were hoping it would provide a direct trip to the nearest station. 

South Kingsville, where the 432 is its only public transport, is the classic example. It is potentially good bus territory for peak commuters as it contains a concentration of CBD workers slightly beyond walking distance of its nearest station at Spotswood.  However the 432 in the area goes to Yarraville in a not very direct way. Even the eastern part of Blackshaws Rd, which could have a bus to Newport (suggested here and here), currently lacks a direct service even though one could be introduced for no extra cost with local network reform


Route 432 operates a 7 day service with minimum service standards for local routes. However it has an unusually frequent weekday service for a back-street local bus route. 

The 432 is 45 minutes long. The bus operator concerned has long had a timetabling practice where the arrival times at one end are the same as the departure times for the following trip that the bus forms (other bus operators have layover times). Another feature is that scheduled run times are the same whether it is peak or offpeak, weekday or weekend, day or night. That is not necessarily good for timetable adherence though to be fair a lot of the 432 runs on local streets which should be fairly quiet at all times. 

If one bus takes 45 minutes each way then a 90 minute headway would be possible with it. Four buses can provide  a 22.5 minute headway while two can provide a 45 minute service. The weekday timetable is based on an average 22.5 minute headway. However services are uneven with gaps of 20, 25 and 30 minutes.  

This uneven service means that the 432 does not have a user-friendly 'memory timetable'. Nor does it mesh evenly with trains which offer a 10 minute service off-peak. Newport and Yarraville see frequent peak period trains, being served by trains from Werribee, Laverton and Williamstown. The latter two operate every 22 minutes in the peak. Despite 432 being a potential peak feeder route from areas like South Kingsville the uneven service provides longer gaps than would be the case if a uniform 22-23 minute peak headway ran. Particularly in the afternoon this could have simplified commuting with a bus connecting with (say) every Williamstown train. That's different to now where detailed trip planning is required to avoid long waits at Yarraville. The indirect route, not attending to timetable matters like these plus a possibly excessive (but uneven) inter-peak frequency probably all contribute to 432's current poor patronage productivity. 

What about weekends? 432's flat 45 minute frequency is operationally efficient. But it does not connect with trains which operate every 20 minutes. As mentioned before Sunday patronage, in particular is very low. 

Poor weekend connectivity is common for Yarraville/Newport area bus routes. This is because none, except for Route 471, have had proper service and timetable reviews. Route 431, like 432 operating from Yarraville, particularly springs to mind. Its 30 minute Saturday service operates over limited hours, is poorly used and doesn't harmonise with trains. Sunday service is not provided. A possible way out of this could be to operationally merge it with Route 432 on weekends to enable both to have a 40 minute service on Saturdays and a 40 or 60 minute service on Sundays. This could deliver more even connectivity with trains and better operating hours and days for the 431 for no extra cost. 

Route 432 operates in the state seat of Williamstown, held by public transport minister Melissa Horne MP. 


The 432 as we now know it has not been around forever. Its current form, introduced about 12 years ago, replaced a truly terrible local network with poor access to Altona Gate and inconsistent weekday/Saturday services. It is one of the achievements of the Hobsons Bay/Maribyrnong bus service review which extended the 432 and introduced the Route 431 to replace the existing routes 429 and 430. Old network maps and route histories can be viewed at BCSV,  and timetables at Krustylink


What would you do with the 432? Does it just need a timetable revamp or are route changes also important? Please leave your comments below if you’ve got thoughts. And remember it runs in the seat held by Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne.

An index to all Timetable Tuesday items is here.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Want to keep thousands in work? Boost buses!

"Never let a good crisis go to waste". That motto has been said a lot lately. People in transport are scrambling to see the implications to get the future they want. 

A major crisis changes how we see the world and run things. Things that were considered important are no longer and vice versa. Policies that were considered settled are no longer. Like during a war things can happen in a short time that might otherwise require decades of policy evolution. 


The COVID-19 crisis has provided a new context for transport advocacy that might have been ignored in the past. The changed circumstances and a story to suit might just make decision-makers listen. Activists' motivation might be to make tomorrow's world a bit more like something they've always wanted or to grab some government funding being offered. There may be calls for certain emergency measures to be made permanent. A transport example is where people who drive cars get far more space than people who walk or those who cycle. Safety needs for separation has encouraged some overseas cities to reallocate lanes for walking and cycling. This is something that active transport advocates have supported all along and would want to be made permanent.  

Governments using crises to deliver change (good and bad)

Governments themselves can use circumstances to increase their power or (conversely) shed responsibility for something they didn't really want to do. For example wartime emergency measures like national control of income taxes have proved enduring. Treasurer Keating used bad economic figures to justify budget cuts and privatisation against the wishes of his party. A mass shooting created community pressure for gun control that Australian governments acted on. 

And wouldn't some  love to be able to track peoples' movement through their mobile phones? If such powers are going to be enlarged the best way to start is in a limited way that can be sold as a community benefit. For example idealistic data wonk types argue that richer data could open up a new world of evidence-based based decision-making in areas such as  health and transport. However, at least for the latter, other considerations are more influential. If we currently only use a tiny amount of what we already know to drive priorities for projects then having more data won't change that. In difficult times governments might escape scrutiny that they should have, whether they are making decisions affecting our personal freedoms, our finances or our future.  

Mass unemployment fears

Australia has done quite well on the health side but the risk of mass unemployment looms. With huge job losses there's fears that we might be heading into a severe recession or even a depression. The COVID-19 has shut or heavily restricted many industries including international education, tourism, arts, accommodation, hospitality, food and retail. The retail sector was already struggling due to online competition and it is uncertain whether it will return to its previous strength. 

Unemployment generally shows a fast rise and a much slower decline, with some people not finding work until years later if at all. Projects like the Great Ocean Road were built in the 1930s to provide relief for unemployed workers. That's proved hugely successful for tourism. Yesterday's Age discussed transport project options available to today's state government to lessen the likely jobless rise. 

Australia's past responses to recessions

The Keynesian response to such slumps is for government to borrow and spend to retain jobs and confidence. Australia was one of the few developed world countries to avoid recession during 2008's Global Financial Crisis. This was attributed by our response, which in the words of then Treasury Secretary Ken Henry was: Go early, Go hard, Go households

The approach under Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan was quite different to that of the Hawke/Keating government which presided over the early 1990s 'recession we had to have'. A depleted Labor Party had narrowly won the election in March 1990. Many Labor states, notably Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, had their own financial troubles. Confidence was plummeting but the full force of unemployment, being a lagging indicator, had yet to hit. Labor spent the following year squabbling over its leadership. In early 1992 Paul Keating, the new prime minister, launched One Nation, a package of infrastructure and other stimulus measures. 

The infrastructure program, which included some major rail projects, had value but did not obey Henry's 'go early, go households' rule. And the tax cuts were held back to after the 1993 election so the package didn't 'go hard' either. The early 1990s recession was more prolonged than other slowdowns such as in 1975 and 1982. Unemployment, in particular, remained stubbornly high for too long. Bear that in mind when you read what's next. 

Everyone wants free money

Who doesn't like free money? Stimulus money is like live bait to a greyhound. Everyone want to hop in for their chop. Including promoters of schemes that would be found wanting if subject to rigorous analysis. A crisis can provide a means to lend credibility to schemes that would otherwise be considered batty (at worst) or poor value for public money (at best). Leaders may be susceptible to seeing big flashy projects that wow the public as solutions to their political problems. If you were suddenly instructed to come up with a plan to spend billions it would be extraordinary if none of it was wasted or otherwise misallocated.    

Part of Wayne Swan's stimulus was a $900 payout to taxpayers. As intended people spent it. It added a demand that kept businesses open and people in jobs. The worth of what people bought with it, whether it was educational books or sessions at the pokies, was not really a consideration. The main thing was that it was spent. 

However it would be nice that if we are going to be spending money for services and projects that they  have wide, sustainable and well-distributed benefits. Especially if that money is borrowed and has to be paid for by tomorrow's taxpayers. You could argue that Keating's rail infrastructure and Better Cities transport projects met that aim even if it wasn't so good for an immediate stimulus.

Fast rail as a stimulus?

Boosters of fast rail are amongst those who see themselves as visionaries. They want many billions for their schemes. The Greens have long advocated it. As have fringe right movements (advised by a former Monash University Pro-Vice Chancellor) in the form of a maglev around Australia. Some in the Liberal Party support it as a means of decentralisation. Now Labor's jumped on board. There seems to have been more excitement about it than retaining existing ailing services such as the Adelaide to Melbourne Overland.  

I'm not going to go into the merits of fast interstate rail here. This recent Iron Road blog post says more if you're interested. But I will say that its rural development potential is over-sold; really fast rail stops in a few places only and can sap regional cities of high-end jobs and services. Very high speed rail is the head of a family of what I would call elite transport projects that largely only benefit the few. 

Not that this stops the commentariat writing about it. Maybe because it seems visionary, providing a sci-fi escape from sometimes mediocre existing customer experiences. For example we won't even buy a tin of paint to brighten up the existing offering, such as Skybus' dreary terminal at Southern Cross Station or sign contracts for station designs that put passengers first by minimising walking between platforms or waiting to cross Spencer Street.

Media packages from vested interest promoters make writing easy. Hence opinion pieces tut-tutting about how backward we are because we don't have airport rail are a dime a dozen. Ditto for dream-pieces about high-speed rail,  UberAir helicopters or fast ferry plans. Even if we had all of them tomorrow they would make zero difference to the lives of most people and how they get around to reach their jobs, schools, shopping and recreation. 

If you really want to improve how people get around you'd start with the daily trips that most people make around where they live. That overwhelmingly means local walking, cycling, bus, tram, train and car trips. For public transport that includes cheap upgrades like those described in the Useful Network series to make the network job-ready. In fact almost anything but the tongue waggers' freeway tunnels and fast rail.  

You might still build the latter but you'd pick cheaper variants, especially if the work does not forestall future upgrades.

Think Switzerland and Germany rather than France. Eg medium speed but relatively frequent regional and interstate rail starting with corridors like Sydney to Canberra that surely justifies more than three trains per day. Brisbane's airport rail, badly hobbled by its erratic 30 minute timetable gaps, just needs a few more trains a day to fix. And if airlines want you to be there 45 to 60 minutes before your flight, does it greatly matter if Melbourne airport rail is a 30 minute all stations service versus a much dearer express that takes 15 minutes, provided good frequency makes the impact of a missed train minor?

Even if you signed the contracts on something big today the planning work required would mean a slow ramp-up. Which would be completely against Ken Henry's early/hard/households advice.

For that we need something else. Now.

Alternatives for a quick stimulus

Taking our minds off transport, what might a good stimulus involve? Here's my pick. 

1. Be quick. Able to be ramped up in a few months.
2. Flow mostly to labour rather than capital.
3. Have wide community benefits.

Although it may have other merits, interstate fast rail fails on all three for reasons mentioned before. Bus services, on the other hand, easily meet all three.

Most adults have a drivers licence. Given the increase in unemployment (especially amongst people with recent customer service experience) training them to drive buses would not be difficult. Bus driver incomes are not what you'd call high but they are better than a lot of hospitality and retail. The longer someone is out of work the harder it is to pick up employment so the sooner you can give then a job the better. It also means people can keep up with the mortgage and all their other spending with multiplier effects through the economy. 

The initial boost could be doubling interpeak and weekend services on popular routes. That could be done with the existing bus fleet. Rostering could initially be done by slotting the added trips in between what currently runs, with a more integrated approach later. Basically you're working the existing bus capital harder by running a great service all day and all week rather than just in the  weekday peaks.   

Then there's the community benefits. Especially in the post-isolation period when people are travelling again. Households, especially in the outer suburbs, with members who have lost their jobs may not be able to run all the cars they do now. Good bus services could become an important lifeline. Especially if networks, routes and timetables are versatile enough to be job-ready.  

The next stage might involve buying buses and ramping up peak frequencies on main road routes, reviewing networks and expanding coverage to growth areas. That will make buses more attractive feeders to train stations and relieve parking pressures there and at nearby retail strips.  More drivers, depot staff and likely depot sites will be needed. The service increase would make public transport far more useful and reverse the per capita service decline we in Melbourne have seen for the better part of a decade. 

Some may also see scope for a national bus acquisition program to create an assured demand for (say) local electric bus manufacturing. That could improve air quality in our cities and create further jobs. Electric buses have their advocates but before any decision is made they need to be proved reliable, something that not been the case during a recent trial in Canberra

Train and tram driver recruitment would also allow service increases on these modes, particularly at times where it is currently poor but demand exists, such as Sunday mornings, evenings and interpeak on some lines. 

With an ability to be rolled out quickly and wide community benefits there's a lot to be said for service upgrades. Unlike an infrastructure project they involve long-term steady jobs which would further boost confidence. And there is an immediate gain in improved services.

The cost (it's cheap!)

Compared with what's been bandied around for high speed rail, a bus service upgrade program to benefit catchments of about 15 million Australians in our ten biggest cities would be cheap. We're talking a national program of about a billion dollars per year, based on a bus costing $0.5m per year to finance and run. A national program of 2000 buses might cost $1b.  New buses could be allocated as follows: 

Sydney 600 buses
Melbourne 600 buses
Brisbane 250 buses
Perth 200 buses
Adelaide 150 buses
Other cities 200 buses

These acquisitions are good but don't forget that better services can and should start before new buses are delivered with off-peak and weekend upgrades working the existing fleet harder. For a few hundred million per year that would generate a disproportionate number of jobs up-front early on. That's ideal for a jobs-preserving stimulus package.

A whole-network approach would deliver further gains. These include off-peak frequency increases for suburban trains, regional trains and buses in regional cities. Key priorities would likely involve network-wide 15 minute 7-day services until last train in Adelaide/Brisbane/Perth (Perth already nearly there). Sydney and Melbourne could gain 10 minute service until last train on all lines where capacity allows, providing a metro-like service on most of their networks. More trains and coaches could be run to regional centres with local buses upgraded in our next thirty or forty regional cities, largely working the existing fleet harder. 

All these would put a lot of money into peoples pay packets very quickly and make cities and states easier to get around for the small figure of $2 billion per annum nationally. That by itself is a small number in macroeconomic terms, directly enabling 'only' tens of thousands of jobs (out of the million or more a severe recession would throw out of work).


Thus scope exists for other shorter term stimulii and some infrastructure-based projects. Maybe smallish, simple and low-risk projects but hundreds if not thousands around the country. Top picks could include capacity-releasing rail duplication and signalling upgrades, thousands of kilometres of new cycleways, local traffic and pedestrian access upgrades including roundabout removals, bus priority upgrades and reviving selected neglected and underserved regional rail corridors such as Ararat - Horsham, Perth - Bunbury /Busselton and the aforementioned Sydney - Canberra. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network 43: F/Line, Ferries and Frequent buses - Fixes for Fish Bend transport

Self preservation makes it wise to have several lines in the water, strings to your bow or pies on your fingers. Then if something goes sour then you've still got other things to hang your hat on. Investment fund managers call that a diversified portfolio.

The Department of Transport has latterly caught on to this approach. It has lately shown as much public interest in nets as in networks, bream as in buses and flatheads as in frequencies. That was until bushfires and COVID-19. Fishing participation is one of the few things that's likely collapsed even faster than public transport ridership. The achievement of Target One Million is looking very flaky indeed.

Does this threaten the Department's existence? Probably not. The overheads of running it can be attributed to 'stimulus' or 'job creation' even if its output is not publicly apparent. The Department of Transport is like a volcano. For years it can appear almost dormant with little significant coming out, not even smoke signals. Then, to everyone's surprise, a lot emerges in a blaze of publicity. So don't underestimate what activity may be simmering beneath its surface.

Especially in this era where managing political risk is everything and department heads appear discouraged from publicly raising ideas that the minister may scotch. The old railway commissioners or even past department leaders were more fearless, as this '90s example shows.

Something like Newton's first law of motion says that it's easier to keep an organisation ticking along at a uniform slow speed than to shut it down and restart after everyone's skedaddled. Getting lost expertise back can take years.  And there's been past times when it's been let go, only for it to be urgently needed a few years later.

The big game here is confidence. You only get that if people keep their jobs and have money in their hands. What tat they spend it on is less important than the act of spending. 

The imperative to keep money flowing is like pass the parcel with a bomb that only explodes if the parcel is not passed. The belief is that the future economic growth will make the GDP bigger and the debt incurred manageable. Provided interest rates stay low. Which they usually do unless there's a credit squeeze or it's desired to tighten things due to runaway demand or inflation.   

Anyway since the tide's out on fishing it's time to get back to public transport. Even if only to maintain internal morale. Their volcano's been plugged for too long. It would be even better if such work could, if only in name, combine both portfolio interests. And kick-start an unloved brownfields area on the CBD's doorstep into the bargain.

Which brings us to Fishermans Bend.

Existing Fishermans Bend Useful Network

The area has jobs but transport to it has always been limited. You can only easily get there from one direction with buses (Route 235 and 237) running from Southern Cross Station. For a while you could take Route 232 buses from Altona North but traffic congestion forced all trips to bypass Fishermans Bend (and run as freeway expresses) several years back.

The 606 arrives from the south (on weekdays only) but it's an infrequent part of a complex local network. With the 109 tram and 234 bus a hike away from most parts, this means the only public transport running every 20 minutes or better interpeak in the area is the 235 bus from the CBD.

All this means that Fishermans Bend is isolated, especially for somewhere so near the CBD. Public transport even from surrounding suburbs (eg the inner-west, south and south-east) is inefficient and slower than driving.

Southern Cross Station is a convenient connection point for regional passengers. However current rail operating patterns can make it unreliable for metropolitan passengers due to City Loop bypasses, train terminations, viaduct delays, transposals at Flinders Street and poor or conflicting passenger information. If you want anything more than one or two storey densities then public transport access has got to be better than this and from more directions too.   

Rail schemes

Both Liberal and Labor state governments have had ideas for a taller and denser Fishermans Bend. Labor promised a metro tunnel in 2010 through the heart of the CBD. It didn't directly serve Fishermans Bend but provided the impetus for later schemes that could (if built).

The Liberals (which won in 2010 under Ted Baillieu) put Labor's plan on hold. Cleverly exploiting the rail  service meltdowns of the Brumby era, they convinced fed-up-to-the-gills voters that they could manage services and money better. Projects were de-scoped or deferred. Instead the game was to get what was there working better. Which the numbers show did happen for rail with a turnaround in reliability and new greenfields frequent service timetables on a few lines.

However that wasn't enough. Only some lines got schedule upgrades. And political sentiment had been shifting to favour big multi-billion projects since the Eddington Transport Report came out in 2008.  Frankston's Liberal-turned-independent MP Geoff Shaw went mad with the burley. The party sharks were circling. Internal discord saw Baillieu, who was seen as leading a floundering 'do nothing' government, resign. Denis Napthine was the sole serious contender for the subsequent leadership ballot.

Premier Napthine's signature projects included the East-west road link and, later, a Melbourne Rail Link that routed trains via a new station at Fishermans Bend. The station supported land-use rezoning controversially approved by then planning minister Matthew Guy. However the rail link was announced too late for a start to be made. And voters didn't let them off the hook for their previous stupor.

Labor regained office in 2014. They revived the CBD Metro Tunnel scheme that's now well under construction. That took a more direct route into the city, missing Fishermans Bend. This has led some in planning circles to advocate a Metro 2 which would serve Fishermans Bend on a new line between Newport and Clifton Hill.

Metro 2 has not interested the current government, which instead favours its own longer and bigger Suburban Rail Loop. This is nearer their marginal seats in the outer eastern and south-eastern suburbs. Whatever its transport merits (which are widely contested) the SRL is more likely to appeal to 'middle Melbourne' suburban (as opposed to  'elite' inner urban) political constituencies.

To sum up, not much is likely to happen regarding heavy rail in Fishermans Bend any time soon. Practically no one lives there, and seats to the west are safe so there's nothing in it for the opposition to advocate. Development will be slowed by the likely recession. The only people really interested are cashed-up land bankers and developers playing the long game and cash-poor urban planning types who might get some consultancy gigs. You might spend on local transport but it won't be a high capital option for quite a while. Bear than in mind when you read what follows.

Land use visions for Fishermans Bend

As the largest parcel of waterfront land near the CBD there has been no shortage of ideas for the precinct. These videos give a taste of various concepts floating around.

Liberal (2010 - 2014)

Labor (2014 - )

The Planning Institute of Australia must have been playing a joke (or trying to make a point) when it scheduled last year's symposium in Fishermans Bend, pretty much the least transit served place in all of inner Melbourne. Is supporting venues who locate in transit deserts (profiting from cheap rent that shifts costs onto customers in the form of inferior access) really the legacy planners wish to leave?  

Fish Bend is not just for planning love-ins. Melbourne University reckons its campus there will be up and running in 2024. A trip to Parkville takes the best part of an hour by existing public transport. An academic consigned there would think they've done something wrong. And students will shun the place unless they can be housed next door with other amenities nearby. 

COVID-19 has put enormous pressure on the university sector with the slump in overseas student enrolments and an accelerated shift to online learning. Despite being a large export industry it's hard to feel for its overpaid administrators who didn't manage risks during the boom.

However I will assume that MU proceeds with Fishermans Bend, or, if it doesn't, there will be some other intensive use made of the land. Which brings us back to transport.

New useful network for Fishermans Bend (the F/Line tram)

Given the lack of current government interest in Metro 2 a less capital intensive option involving trams is a live possibility if they want anything to happen at Fishermans Bend. If the decision is made now it could be rolled out by the time Melbourne Uni's new campus opens.

The F/Line proposal, with two light rail lines, is set out below: 

F/Line 1: Fishermans Bend - Lorimer St - Anzac Station. Allows Metro Tunnel connections including from Melbourne University and Caulfield area.  

F/Line 2: Fishermans Bend - Williamstown Rd - CBD. Allows direct and simple access from Melbourne CBD.

Extensions are possible. F/Line 1 could run to South Yarra Station and via Toorak Rd to a new intermodal interchange on the Alamein line called Hartwood (or Burwell).  This would replace part of Tram 58 which would terminate at Anzac Station. F/Line 2 could extend to Doncaster Park & Ride, Doncaster Rd and Mitcham Station. This would replace the 907 SmartBus with a high frequency medium capacity increased catchment alternative to Doncaster Rail.  

Then there's a potential F/Line 3, so speculative it's not on the map. That could run over a Collins St tram bridge to Docklands, then Southern Cross then up Spencer St to North Melbourne Station. That would serve the large number of apartments going up. From there it could operate to Footscray via Dynon Rd. Rich Docklands boat owners carp on about opposing the bridge but it's a no-brainer that will deliver massive benefits as it transforms Docklands from being an edge to being a centre. 

A wider network with wider benefits

F/Line is more than a tram network. That's because introducing trams would free up buses. These could be moved to connect other areas to Fishermans Bend via new or improved routes for a true integrated network. Possibilities include:

* Modified 232 from Altona North/Newport (discussed here)
* Boosted 606 from Elsternwick and St Kilda (concept here)
* Potential alternative direct Footscray area connection and
* High capacity / high frequency cross-Yarra bicycle punt from Spotswood

The result is a much more accessible Fishermans Bend as shown below. 

Of these the front-runner is the 232/West Gate Bridge route. This is because it connects Newport Station (served by trains from Werribee, Laverton/Altona and Williamstown) with jobs in Fishermans Bend. That connection is currently difficult, requiring substantial backtracking from the CBD. 

Plus, because the existing Route 232 bus both duplicates other bus routes and is poorly used, it could be implemented right now, for zero additional cost, even before F/Line starts. Then the buses that F/Line saves could be reserved for high frequency/high capacity connections from other directions. 

A further benefit is that 232's rerouting via Mason St would allow Route 471 to run via more of Blackshaws Rd, providing a new direct connection from South Kingsville to Newport Station. Gentrifying South Kingsville has many CBD workers and there are local calls for a bus to Spotswood Station. The 471 Newport connection would meet these needs for zero additional operating cost with Newport having the advantage of more frequent trains including expresses. The area is within Transport Minister Melissa Horne's seat of Williamstown.  

The other Fishermans Bend connection desirable is from the inner west. That includes close-in areas like Yarraville, Spotswood and Williamstown. The need for such a connection was known as far back as 19121926 and 1936 where bus or tram solutions were proposed. 

The 232 Newport bus connection mentioned before is good for some but it is still indirect for some shorter trips. A suggested alternative is an integrated cycling/ferry solution drawing on the successful West Gate Punt to deliver a high-quality ten minute service feeding upgraded cycling routes at Spotswood. The two vessels required could be named after previous members for Williamstown who became premiers.  


The above is just the bones of a transport scheme for Fishermans Bend. Catch the much more detailed Fishermans Bend Transport Plan from three years back here.  And you might find other discussion over on the Fishermans Bend Network Facebook page. The Altona North portion is discussed here

What do you think of this network? Are there other connections that Fishermans Bend needs? Drop me a line; I look forward to herring from you in the comments below.

PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.


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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Timetable Tuesday #71: 130 streets in 130 minutes - welcome to the indirect 787 bus

The Mornington Peninsula has the least public transport service per resident of any metropolitan or near metropolitan location. Network coverage misses tens of thousands of people. And the few routes that exist rarely meet minimum service standards of one bus per hour seven days per week. 

Those routes that are there are prone to trying to do many things at once, none of them well. The prime example of this is Route 787. Running from Safety Beach to Sorrento, it’s close to being Melbourne’s longest distance bus route. And it runs through more streets and turns more corners than any other service. An end-to-end trip on a Saturday takes 134 minutes, just four minutes less than the noon train to Benalla. 

Route 787 operates in the marginal government seat of Nepean, held by Chris Brayne MP. As can be seen from the map below it goes on so many streets that two pages are needed to display it.

The area map below shows it in relation to other routes. The main one of these is the 788. This is the main highway routes with 787 being the parallel back-street route, sometimes weaving back to the bay to serve the main shopping centres. Connections to Route 788 are available at some of these points.

How understandable is Route 787? Its word description (in one direction only) requires 765 words, the length of a short essay. Judging it as an essay, putting this description into an online readability checker says it needs 29 years of formal education to understand. That's because its route description on the PTV website is a long sentence and these tend to be less readable. 


Route 787 has very low patronage when measured on a bus operating hour basis. On weekdays it gets six passengers per bus service hour with this dropping to four on Saturdays. Part of the reason for this is the route’s slow speed due to its indirect route. This could partly be attributed to poor route design. However the area's street design, which limits permeability and the ability to operate direct bus routes much take some of the blame.  Some areas overlap with Route 788, which due to its more direct route and more frequent service (relatively speaking) would attract some passengers.


Route 787 started as a quasi-community service without a route number. For a while it was simply called ‘The Bus’. Later it became part of the PTV system and got a route number.

Weekday and Saturday timetables are different. On weekdays it runs as three shorter routes. On Saturday it's a single long route, operating via no less than 130 streets. You can see this below. Intervals between buses are anywhere between under an hour and over five hours. 

You can see historic 787 timetables on Krustylink.

What would you do with the 787? I gave some ideas here. The local council has been advocating for better buses but there's been no public support from the local MP and nothing from the state government yet. It would seem to me that a split would be sensible to simplify the route. Say the western half (west from Rosebud) continuing to Frankston via a doubled frequency combined corridor with the 788 and the eastern half comprising one or two local feeders route. Any improvement would almost certainly need more buses. Anyway please leave your comments below. 

An index to all Timetable Tuesday items is here.

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Friday, April 17, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 42: Rowville and Lysterfield

It's easy to spot a politician who does not keep their word. All you need to do is find one who promised rail to Rowville. 

Rowville is one of those areas where expectations about public transport are raised but precious little gets done. A railway to Rowville was first mooted in the 1969 Melbourne Transport Plan.  John Cain promised a  Rowville/Ferntree Gully line in 1982. Despite it running through Steve Crabb, the transport minister's seat, it was never built. They dropped the promise in 1985 and 1988's 14-year Met Plan doesn't mention it

1999 was similar to 1982, with a long-serving on-the-nose Coalition government and a fresh young Labor leader. Labor's Steve Bracks raised and then dashed expectations about Rowville heavy rail. They didn't even get to the feasability study stage

Talk of light rail got nowhere. The area got the Scoresby Freeway instead. Along with bus improvements. These were the 900 SmartBus in 2006 and the 901 orbital SmartBus on Stud Rd (whose bus lanes got removed in 2011).  Both improved public transport in the Stud Rd area but did not benefit the large population to its east whose bus services were worse than ever with routes like 681/682

Labor's 2008 Victorian Transport Plan didn't mention Rowville. But the opposition Liberals, led by Ted Baillieu, in 2010 did. 

That's a pattern. Whenever there's been a change of government (1982, 1999 and 2010) the victorious opposition has made a promise relating to Rowville rail. Which they proceeded to break while in government. 

Anyway the coalition government produced a feasibility study on Rowville rail. You can read Stage 1 here. And Stage 2 here. Stage 2 started off like: 

While not in Labor's 2008 Victorian Transport Plan, Rowville rail was proposed in the PTV's Network Development plan, released in 2012 (more here and here). Upbeat words like those quoted above led people to think that the Liberal/National coalition government had promised to build a railway to Rowville.  However not a sod was turned. 

In the court of public opinion this was regarded as a broken promise. Especially when added to a lack of progress on smaller projects like Southland Station near several marginal seats. Judgement was delivered on election day 2014, where the Coalition lost office after just a single term. Victorious was Daniel Andrews' Labor which presented a large and popular infrastructure program.   

The level crossing removals were the Andrews government's signature short term project. Their  sheer number meant that most people saw the government building things each day. And the construction speed allowed people to experience the benefits quickly. 

For the longer term was the multi-tens of billion dollar/multi-decade Suburban Rail Loop, announced just before the 2018 election. Despite professional transport planners saying that there were better uses for the money, the people liked it with Daniel Andrews returned with an increased majority. 

The SRL passes too far west to directly serve Rowville.  That would instead be served by a light rail, pretty much replicating the Route 900 bus from Caulfield. Announced in April 2018, Stage 1 would operate from Caulfield to Monash Clayton with a stage 2 to Rowville. Some commentary at the time on this is here and here. May 2018's federal budget included $475 million for rail to Monash University with the federal government apparently preferring a heavy rail option. 

Almost nothing further has been heard about the Rowville tram despite the announcement being two years ago last Friday. With Labor spruiking the bigger SRL instead, it didn't even get much of a run before the election. Though Rod Barton MLC has been asking questions.  Last year The Age reported on fears that it may be stalled.  

Such fears are credible. Rowville light rail doesn't make the Victoria's Big Build website or its time-line which extends to 2026. A Glen Eira Council release refers to a not yet released Rowville Light Rail Project Report. A follow-up query from Rob Barton MLC said that the placement of the Monash University stop depends on the Suburban Rail Link's station to enable a tram/train connection.   That could be a long way off. 

David Davis MLC, the shadow minister supposed to hold the government to account on transport matters, has not made as much as he could have from the government's stalling. To be fair he is somewhat hobbled by being in a different house to the two responsible ministers. However an obsession with opposing 'Skyrail' would have sapped his energy. The 2018 election result showed it up as a political dead end unsupported by mainstream sentiment. 

The federal government, which isn't yet sure whether it's going to be heavy or light rail, says that the project has not started. A start would require an agreement with the state government and a business case. Along with a substantial commitment of funds from the state as the federal money by itself won't be enough for much.

There's so many ifs and buts that if not extinct Rowville light rail is possibly dormant. Which can in some cases be worse. Because when a government kills off a rail improvement there is usually a bus improvement to save a little face. Examples include substitute buses added when the government reneged on promises to extend trains to South Morang and Cranbourne East and trams to Knox City. 

Even the 900 SmartBus could be considered a replacement for not building Rowville rail in the 2000s. It got a welcome peak frequency upgrade a few years ago (from 15 to 10 minutes) but its half-hourly weekend frequency and operating hours (particularly Sundays) remain a long way from being train or tram-like.

Existing network

When built 20 to 40 years ago Rowville never got a full residential area bus network. Even of the 'minimum standard' type that most outer suburbs have, ie indirect routes every 40 to 60 minutes providing reasonable residential coverage. This is possibly because the area  grew during some very lean times for buses (most notably the 1990s) and no subsequent government has addressed the service backlog. 

Instead Rowville/Lysterfield got two largely overlapping half networks that would not necessarily be cheap to run. This comprises (i) some very indirect, very infrequent fixed route buses and (ii) some on-demand limited hours flexible route 'demand responsive' buses, called, in Melbourne's east, Telebuses. Neither provide sufficient coverage, directness, frequency and operating hours to give a useful service.

Below is a typical timetable for Rowville/Lysterfield. There are up to 110 minute gaps between buses  (even on weekdays) and limited operating hours. More on the 681 here.

You can see how this fits in with the broader network below. 

This network comprises the following services:

1. SmartBus routes 900 (Caulfield - Stud Park) and 901 orbital via Stud Rd. While distant from most homes in the area they are the only part of the local network that can be considered really successful.

2. East-west Route 691 from Waverley Gardens to Boronia via Ferntree Gully. Only 'minimum standards' route in much of area. Indirect portion. Weak western terminus is Waverley Gardens which has lost relevance as a destination since local centres such as Stud Park and Knox City opened. Also overlaps part of 900 SmartBus.

3. Clockwise and anti-clockwise loop routes 681/682. Connect Rowville and Lysterfield to Stud Park Shopping Centre. Limited hours and frequency. No public holiday service. Confusing extensions to Waverley Gardens. Only some trips extend to Knox City (overlapping the 901).

4. Various Telebus routes to Stud Park Shopping Centre including areas 7, 8 and 9. Parts overlap 681/682 coverage. Telebus 7 and 8 has a few peak trips to Ferntree Gully Station with roughly hourly frequencies. Hours are roughly 7am to 7pm with no weekend service.

5. 754 from Glen Waverley. Connects Stud Park to Glen Waverley. Complex route with peak and off-peak variations providing no unique coverage in area although the Glen Waverley connection is potentially useful.

The bus review from about 10 years ago recommended a wholesale network redesign to simplify local bus services. None has occurred. Rowville is a safe Liberal seat held by Kim Wells MP.

Network history

The most enduring service in the Rowville area has been a service up Stud Rd from Dandenong. In the early 1970s this ran to Upper Ferntree Gully and Belgrave, turning right at Ferntree Gully Rd. By 1978 the Stud Rd bus has become the 665 operating between Dandenong and Ringwood via a similar alignment as today's 901 which replaced it in 2008 (then Frankston to Ringwood only - the orbital was to follow in 2010). See these on maps here and old timetables here.

The 757 and 758 (not in Rowville but discussed later) started as shopper routes from Knox City just before the 1982 state election. These remain weekday only routes with no service at convenient commuting times.

The 692 started in 1984. Very similar to today's 691 it ran from Rowville to Boronia via Rowville. See its timetable on Krustylink. Notable features included a basic hourly weekday frequency and a Saturday morning only service. Off-peak weekday extensions to Waverley Gardens (then the area's main shopping centre) started in 1987.  The opening of Stud Park Shopping Centre in 1989 made Rowville more self-contained. If people wanted to visit a big centre they would go to the ever-growing Knox City to the north instead of Waverley Gardens. However the bus network in 2020 stubbornly reflects Waverley Gardens' previous status with the bus there operating more frequently and over longer hours than services to Knox City.

1988 saw the 692 get incorporated into the extended 634. This was a very long 'Metlink' route established under MetPlan around the time of the bus contracts dispute. It started at Middle Brighton and ran to Belgrave via Waverley Gardens, Rowville and Ferntree Gully.  634's service level was relatively high with a 20 minute weekday off-peak frequency and Friday and Saturday night service operating until midnight.

By 1992 the 634 had been cut back to start at Monash University Clayton according to the timetable though a map from that year had it starting at Monash Medical Centre. Possibly as it was fairly recent it was a 'protected species' as far as the service cuts then occurring goes with it being one of the few routes that kept its evening and Sunday service as it vanished from numerous others. This reprieve proved only temporary; the 634 had been dismantled and replaced by shorter routes by the late 1990s. Its replacement in the Rowville area was the 691, which unusually for the time, retained Sunday service. It even had a Sunday-only extension to Croydon. Today 691 remains the only route away from Stud Rd to gain minimum service standards in the 2000s.

There were a lot of 'quick and dirty' outer suburban bus service upgrades in 2002. For instance some new routes and Sunday service additions. However money was still very scarce. The tap for buses was only properly turned on in 2006. It largely got spent on the (commendable) minimum service upgrades and SmartBus orbitals and had again slowed to a trickle by the time the metropolitan bus reviews (some of whose recommendations were inefficient and expensive) came out. Besides the trains had become a mess and this is where government shifted its emphasis to from about 2010. For these reasons most of Melbourne never got the bus network reform it needed about 10 years ago after the long stagnation of the 1990s.

Rowville's main gain in 2002 was the creation of the 681 and 682 loops. These ran from Stud Park (and sometimes Knox City) to provide new fixed routes in Rowville and Lysterfield. Before then the only transport was provided by flexible route Telebuses. Unlike newer maps the 1992 network map did not show the area Telebus covered. However if you look carefully you can see the labels at Stud Park and Ferntree Gully. While well-meaning at the time, the 681/682's introduction over the top of Telebus has left an inefficient, infrequent and confusing network that remains to this day.

Existing Useful Network

A look at the existing Useful Network (that is services every 20 minutes or better) gives us this. Basically there's nothing away from Stud Rd. Even train frequencies are poor with only half-hourly service beyond Ringwood. For a built up area this level of service is low. 

Revised Rowville network 

Below is a revised network concept that seeks to simplify bus services in the Rowville/Lysterfield area. It does this by consolidating the duplicative Telebuses into fixed route operating to minimum service standards or better. This means 7 day service, no 2 hour gaps, longer operating hours and routes that do the same thing throughout the day.

Key points include:

* All areas to gain buses to Ferntree Gully Station via regular fixed routes. Not only during peak times (as provided by Telebuses 7 and 8) but also off-peak and weekends as well. This is achieved by splitting the 681 and 682 loop into two bidirectional routes, both operating between Knox City and Ferntree Gully via Stud Park.

* Overlap reduced on Stud Rd however most of the 681/682 catchment retains one-seat rides from Knox City with improved frequency and operating span. This is achieved by incorporating the 757 and 758 into rerouted 681 and 682 services. This provides new southern connections to Scoresby/Knoxfield and introduces longer operating hours and 7 day service to weekday-only routes. While this change makes some trips longer passengers have the option of changing to the 901 for a more direct trip. While only an hourly off-peak frequency is suggested this is significantly better than what currently runs.

A small fringe benefit of this simplification is that the 757 and 758 route numbers are freed up for use in the Frankston/Mornington Peninsula area which has a shortage of contiguous numbers for the review needed there (756, 759, 761, 762, 763 and 764 are also free and there is already a route 760 nearby).

* Extension of Route 900 SmartBus to Ferntree Gully. This provides a  high quality, long hours service to the Kelletts Rd area. As well as a strong feeder to Ferntree Gully Station.

* Shortening and straightening of 691. The Waverley Gardens portion is considered less relevant with local shopping centres growing since that route was put in. The network above has it providing a relatively direct route in the Wellington Rd area (though most doesn't actually run along it).  The complex Route 754 is left to the Glen Waverley/Mulgrave area to examine. However potential exists for this to be extended to Ferntree Gully via the 691 to provide a through route.

Paying for it

Due to its frequency the 900 SmartBus extension will require additional resources. A cheaper option could be to extend only every second trip beyond Stud Park to Ferntree Gully. However this reduces legibility. Even if resources were not available to extend Route 900, the merging and amalgamation of the 681, 682, 757, 758, TB7, TB8 and TB9 into just two linear routes should allow substantial improvement within current resources.

The hourly frequencies suggested for 681 and 682 reflect the unfavourable demographics for buses (eg high car ownership). However if peak frequencies on these neighbourhood routes could be economically increased to 30 minutes that would be desirable, especially on the portions east of Stud Park. 

Further changes

This is a first-cut network simplification that removes the grossest of the problems that afflict buses in the Rowville/Lysterfield area. Further reforms are possible if Ferntree Gully gets trains every 20 minutes off-peak. Then one might consider a Route 900 which is every 10 minutes between Caulfield and Stud Park. One section could operate every 20 min via Kelletts Rd while another section could operate via the 691 mapped above also at that frequency. 

A more direct connection to Knox City from eastern Rowille/Lysterfield is desirable. It may be possible to run something via Bunjil Way. However network changes in the Knoxfield area would be needed to avoid excessive duplication. There may also be interaction with desired Bayswater area changes discussed here

Finally the 754 was not discussed. This needs to go the same way during peak and off-peak periods. Potential exists to do something with that east of Stud Park in a future network change. 691 was shortened in this suggested network as Waverley Gardens was considered a weak terminus. The possibility of extending it south from Waverley Gardens to Noble Park Station was considered however it is considered that the Jacksons Rd corridor would be better served by a north south route from Glen Waverley or Monash University instead. 


What do you think of this network? Are there other approaches that might be better? Please leave your comments below.

PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.

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